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Casino panel may be short on time, resources, Taylor worries


House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. has suggested that a task force set up to study whether casino gambling should be legalized in Maryland might have neither the time nor the resources to do its work properly before the General Assembly convenes in January.

Mr. Taylor stopped short of saying the task force should be given more time to develop its recommendations, a move that might have short-circuited efforts to push casino bills through the General Assembly next year.

The speaker said he did not want to interrupt a study that was under way.

But, in an interview Wednesday with The Sun, the Allegany County Democrat said he was worried that the joint legislative-gubernatorial task force has not considered the potential impact of pending Indian gaming proposals, nor taken a "big picture" look at the effect casino gambling would have on all other forms of gambling in Maryland.

"I don't envy the task force its job," he said. "But I worry whether the task force is going to have the time and the resources to complete its mission and deal with the big picture."

Mr. Taylor said he was troubled by the prospect that the task force could recommend against legalizing casinos and that the General Assembly could agree, only to watch helplessly as pending proposals to establish Indian-run casinos in Maryland are approved by the federal government.

The speaker said he had conveyed his concerns to the two House members who serve on the nine-member task force.

But the chairman of the casino study group, former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, said if Mr. Taylor believes that the task force has ignored the Indian gaming issue, "he has obviously not stayed up to date on this nor talked to his two members."

He said that Indian gaming was discussed at the group's first meeting, that he later discussed it with Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. and that an assistant attorney general is preparing a written report on the legalities of Indian gaming.

"We're going to make a report on whether or not we feel the Maryland General Assembly should legislate in favor of casino gambling in the context of all those issues [Mr. Taylor] raised. We'll have an opinion, yes or no," he said.

Mr. Tydings said the task force also will recommend "the best system" for casino gambling in case the legislature decides to legalize it.

Descendants of Piscataway Indians in Southern Maryland are trying to obtain formal recognition of their tribe by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the first step toward a possible Indian-run casino there.

Meanwhile, a Virginia businessman is trying to piece together a deal with the Absentee Shawnee tribe in Oklahoma to establish a huge gambling complex in the mountains of Western Maryland, where the Shawnee lived about 300 years ago.

Many see both proposals as long shots, although Mr. Taylor says his Western Maryland constituents believe the Shawnee proposal could happen. Both require federal approvals that might take years to obtain. They also could require the backing of Maryland's governor, the legislature or local voters.

"Until the intricacies of the federal government involvement with Indian casinos in Maryland are settled, it seems premature to me for us to be making a policy decision about commercial casinos," Mr. Taylor said. Mr. Tydings said the task force intends to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of Indian gaming just as it will various commercial proposals. "We'll have to consider anything and everything presented to us," he said.

James L. Silvester, the Winchester, Va., businessman who is promoting an Indian-run casino project in Allegany County, was in Oklahoma on Wednesday trying to seal a deal with the Shawnees and a casino developer.

Mr. Silvester said he wants to propose "a super, mega-casino" for Western Maryland that will not only have a monopoly in the Maryland market but will be so big that it will serve as "a barrier" against competition in neighboring states. He said he is convinced that commercial casino gambling proposals will fail in the legislature and wants to offer his Indian-run project as an alternative.

Mr. Silvester said he plans to announce the agreement he has reached with the Shawnee at a news conference Sept. 18 in Cumberland, the same day Mr. Tydings' task force is scheduled to hold a public hearing there. He would not disclose the name of the developer involved in the project, but sources said it was Hollywood Casino Corp., which owns and operates casinos in Aurora, Ill., and Tunica, Miss.

But Mr. Taylor said he does not support the Shawnee project, largely because the operation would not be regulated by the state, proceeds could not be taxed by the state and his Western Maryland constituents oppose it.

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